December 2008

The Sabbatical Begins

The two Iowa girls made it home, letting us have Christmas together complete as a family. The above photo shows Jonathan, Sarah, Rachel, and Diane. It was wonderful having all four children together. The only distress was an extra visitor (Schmutzie die Wutzie)-actually, she’s a cat, something we didn’t really expect, and Katze has not been very happy about her new feline roommate. The girls have gone back home, but they left the cat. That’s ok. We still love the Iowa kids.
Meanwhile, my practice has slowed down so that I have had time free to get packing. Not having made many 5 week trips out of the country, it is a little difficult to determine exactly what to bring. So, minor indecisiveness prevails while I decide on my favorite things to bring. As I write this, I notice that the temperature in Düsseldorf is -8°C, meaning that is absolutely freezing. No way I’m going to ride a bicycle and come home with frostbite. I’ll stick to walking and public transportation in Germany, for now.
Getting travel issues straightened out with my other trips to Bangladesh has been made much easier through the agency of Samaritan’s Purse. They will essentially be the organization that sends me off. They also have done this before, and so they have been superb at helping neophytes like Betsy and me organize the trips.
Snow. Yes, this year is experiencing global cooling. Next year, it may return to global warming. But, we had a moderate amount of snow, that sits in patches by the side of the road. It snowed just before Christmas, giving us a wonderful Weiße Weihnacht. Here are a few photos…

Of course, Christmas was celebrated as usual…

I was able to do a home visit to one of my patients who is now in his last days, on whom I performed a major cancer operation. I had learned that he had an absolutely incredible story of escape with his family from Eastern Germany during the cold war. We then discovered that he was my student teacher in German class in high school. I was so excited about that, that I decided to help him write his autobiography. Using my typographical skills, we slowly got his story together, which included scanned photos from many aspects of his life. I would encourage you to read the story, which can be found in Die Veröffentlichen as Meine Geschichte (My Story). Helmut has a strong love for the Lord, which takes some of the sorrow out of the soon-passing of a dear patient but also dear friend.
Exercise continues. After the accident on the trainer, I have my bicycle repaired, and am pushing the training each day. I finally figured out how to use the Garmin 705 in training mode, as I was having a problem with it making a wireless connection with the rear sensor that would tell me speed, distance, and cadence. Together with a heart monitor, I am totally in the know on my rides that go nowhere. The Garmin is actually a slave-driver

since it forces me to maintain a steady speed and cadence, and usually shows me that my cadence is too slow. Cadence is your pedaling speed, and you like to keep it between 70-90, but I usually go 60-70. Well, I have the winter to work on that.
While pedaling away, I’ve managed to work my way through Heidegger,  Wittgenstein, the Frankfurt School including Habermas, Quine, Hayek, Popper, Kuhn, the Structuralists Saussure, and Levi-Strauss. There are only a few lectures left to go, covering deconstructionists, Rohrty, MacEntyre, and Nozick. So, what has this availed me? The designers of this series have left out various schools of thought, such as the existentialists, for reasons that elude me. Truth has taken a hard hit, and nobody, save for perhaps MacEntyre, even believes in a notion of truth. Many of the lectures, including those about Habermas, Quine, Popper, Kuhn, & Rawls deal only with the nature of social interactions and language in forming a constructive society. Democracy has rightfully taken a serious hit, as these philosophers abandon the polar opposites of both socialism (esp. Hayek), and democracy in its raw form. In addition, Wittgenstein essentially destroyed the possibility of language (based on commonly accepted philosophical pre-suppositions), yet the structuralists and late 20th century philosophers don’t wish to abandon the possibility of communication, as least until they’ve spoken their mind. Popper and Kuhn, while seemingly restoring a philosophy of science, have essentially destroyed the possibility of science demonstrating ultimate truth, since the paradigms of research determine the interpretation of outcomes. Yet, we still do science since there is utility in it. Bottom line—it seems to me like the pragmatists have won; philosophers have despaired of philosophizing, and are no longer asking questions of ontology, morality, or epistemology, but simply ascertaining how to produce a functional society at peace with itself. In essence, they have become nothing but political scientists and sociologists. Francis Schaeffer again proves right, when he spoke of personal peace and prosperity is the summum bonum of the late twentieth century, rather than truth or morality. Enough philosophizing.
Many continue to ask about my plans for the Sabbatical. Here is a rough outline…
02JAN-07FEB Deutschland, esp. Düsseldorf, where I will be spending four weeks in a language school. Betsy didn’t want to go. I think she suspects Germans to all be closet Nazis or jack-booted Prussian militarists, myself included. During that time, I’ll be spending time with Onkel Herbert, visiting a childhood friend and her husband (Heinz und Debbie Fuchs) in the Stuttgart area, hopefully getting up to Bremen and Hamburg, and then going with Herbert to Würzberg to visit Katya (Herbert’s, and soon to be, my friend) and eventually on to Praha (Prague).
February – cross-country skiing, and maybe some downhill skiing. I’ll be spending a lot of time organizing for Bangladesh.
02-07 March – Phoenix, to go to the Society of Surgical Oncology meetings. Betsy and I plan on spending time with Dr. Peter T. and also delighting ourselves in one of the most fascinating characters of the twentieth-21st centuries, Peter Megyesi, who is Betsy’s brother. Peter and his wife Linda live in Scottsdale and are always enjoyable to visit, with never a dull moment. I’m not sure how Linda puts up with Petie, but they seem to remain madly in love.
15MAR-15MAY Bangladesh. I’m ready. Betsy’s psyching up. Pray for us!
Summer – will be spent in the Pacific Northwest. One does not leave the PNW in summer, as it is paradise here. Plans are to hike the 93 miles (150 km) Wonderland trail around Rainier with Jonny (again), do the entire loop of Crater Lake on a bicycle with Luc A and father while camping out with Aaron H., doing the Seattle to Portland (STP) on a bicycle in one day, only 203 miles (327 km) of fairly flat terrain. I also am considering a touring ride across the state of Washington with the Cascade Bicycle Club.
September-December – to Africa. Too far away to think seriously about, except to pencil in the days that we will be away.
While in Düsseldorf, I will try to make a blog page every week with the events of the week. I will NOT be announcing the publication of the page, in part to not burden you with unnecessary junk mail. Please stay in touch and drop comments as appropriate.

Conan the Barbarian

Conan the Barbarian, starring Arnold Schwarznegger ★★★★★
I’ve seen this movie probably more than 30 times, yet it continually remains funny and fresh. First inspired by Dr. Pridjian to watch this film, it nearly became a cult film for the General Surgeons at Cook County Hospital. We would get together just to watch Arnold do his thing. This film is difficult to take seriously. The plot is stupid, the acting is horrid, but quotes are often from historic characters, like Gengis Khan or historical situations. The music of Prokofiev is used prolifically. It was seen again only because Andrew Flanagan had never seen Conan before, and New Year’s eve seemed the most fitting time to watch it if we weren’t going to watch another version of Die Fledermaus. In spite of all its stupidity, the movie seems to work, and it’s nice to see the governor of California in one of his earlier roles. Though there is a modest amount of partial nudity, it is never presented in a vile fashion, and the biggest aspect to prevent kids from watching this film is the sheer violence that occurs. Of course, this film can turn one into a violent person, as is witnessed by a generation of surgeons from Cook County Hospital.

David Oistrakh: Concertos and Encores

David Oistrakh: Concertos and Encores ★★★★★
These concerti (not concertos!) were published by Deutsche Grammaphon, which means superlative recording style. The sound is very forward, which on my system, is close to being in the concert hall. This set consists of a potpourri of Oistrakh recordings, but most importantly, the Mendelssohn, Bruch, Glazunov, Prokofiev, and  Kabalevsky concerti. There is some repetition with the EMI set, with the Bruch and Prokofiev concerti on both sets, and some concerti only on the EMI set, such as the Brahms, Khatchaturian, and Shostakovich concerti. The duplicated pieces are definitely different performances, and definitely better recorded with DG than with EMI. Both sets are worth having. Oistrakh is a consummate violinist, the best that could ever be, and these recordings reflect the various pieces performed at their very best. Oistrakh is not so strident as Heifetz, and not as smooth or mellow as Menuhin. It is a commanding sweetness that I would make it my preferred recording for the hypothetical desert island setting.

Great Minds of the Western Tradition

Great Minds of the Western Tradition, various professors (Teaching Company) ★★★★
This series was a mix, with some very good and some very average professors. Starting with the Greeks, various notable philosophers were discussed, typically all by people who were experts on that person. I’ve reviewed some of the teachers on the blog site. The series is quite variable in quality, is highly repetitive of the Greeks, and leaves out many of the most important thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries. All in all, it’s been an enjoyable series, that I will probably listen to again someday.

Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar ★★★★

OK, it’s not fair reviewing six albums at once. The third (West Meets East) and last (Shankar Sitar Concertos) were a touch different, in that they also included either Yehudi Menuhin or an orchestra, or both). In the first album, Ravi explains in western musical terms exactly what is happening with the music. First, it is not based exactly on the western 12-tone system and will have many other tones included. It will not necessarily utilize conventional harmonies. The beat may be quite odd metered-such as 13 beats per measure. It is a mix of fixed format as well as improvisations, though Ravi makes clear that it definitely is not jazz. All in all, it has a tendency toward serialism, or minimalism, which it also is not.  Shankar did cut an album with the master of minimalism, Phillip Glass, which shows a tendency to accommodate such a musical form. I don’t like minimalism, though this music was rather enjoyable to listen to. The sitar is a fairly complex instrument to play and is usually accompanied by a “drone” as well as a semi-pitched percussion instrument. I’m not sure there is a necessity of purchasing many albums by Ravi Shankar since the pieces seem to lack the distinctiveness that would allow the listener to distinguish one piece from another. I’m sure more familiarity with his music might help a bit.

Jascha Heifetz Tchaikovsky & Mendelssohn Violin Concerti

Jascha Heifetz Tchaikovsky & Mendelssohn Violin Concerti, with Fritz Reiner and the CSO ★★★★★
It is difficult to imagine somebody not liking the Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn violin concerti, and this recording is supremely done to enhance one’s appreciation for these two pieces. Not only are the recordings of superb quality, but the performance by both Heifetz and Reiner are at the best that these two concerti could experience. Heifetz is an especially commanding and aggressive performer while maintaining technical brilliance. While Menuhin (reviewed above) has a sweet, light, and airy approach, Heifetz has no hesitation to attack. Both, as well as Oistrakh, are the best of the best. Yet, their particular performing styles create entirely different pieces. All three performers are worth having in one’s repertoire.


M, by Fritz Lang ★★★★★
Anything by Fritz Lang is a masterpiece, and this is no exception. It is the story of a psychotic child murderer (Peter Lorre in one of his first roles), being pursued not only by the police but by the underworld, for giving crime a bad name. The filming is wonderful, and its very dark storyline maintains an active pace that keeps the viewer fixed to the screen. The film is entirely in German, and there are no under-titles, so non-German speakers may not enjoy this film.

Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life

Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life ★ to ★★★
This is actually a set of four shorts. The first receives a 4-star, (It’s a Wonderful Life), the story of a tormented Franz trying to write the Metamorphosis, but constantly being disturbed by neighbors and people knocking at the door. It finally ends in a “Wonderful Life” fashion, with all the players now quite happy. The second film (Seven Gates) was a rather boring story of two brothers as they drive home after years of being away. The third film (The Deal) was awful and too obscene to even finish watching. The fourth (Mr. McAllister’s Cigarette Holder) was an entertaining story of a southern hick affixed to his cigarette holder. All in all, only the first was really funny, so wouldn’t advise anyone wasting their time to watch.

Menuhin Mendelssohn & Bruch Violin Concerti

Yehudi Menuhin Mendelssohn & Bruch Violin Concerti, Israel Philharmonic ★★★★★
As compared to the Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Khatchaturian, and Shostakovich violin concerti, I am relatively unfamiliar with the Bruch violin concerto. I wouldn’t be able to compare this recording with other performances. The Mendelssohn performance is virtually stupendous, and Menuhin shows a mastery of this concerto equaled by few others. His is a sweet, melodic, flowing performance. His style reminded me of the playing of the wife of a very good friend of mine (Anita H.) in the song-like delivery of even the technically most demanding portions of a piece. Both are delightful pieces worthy of a humble collection.

Starwars Prequel Trilogy

Star Wars Prequel Trilogy ★★
This series doesn’t really deserve two stars, save that the special effects were quite awesome, as well as the sound. Following the great star wars trilogy, this set is a horrid disappointment. The acting is very poor, the storyline is highly predictable and unoriginal, resulting in a rather boring set of films.  There is horrid character development and the characters have no depth, examples including JaJa and the young Anakin Skywalker, as well as the princess Amadala. The third of the series was the best, utilizing a concrete storyline, rather than simply just throwing special effects at you. All in all, this set is not worth watching, even for the avid Star Wars fan. George Lucas could have done much better.